#MemberSpotlight on Arun Singh, CFO of MDH Partners
We spoke with Arun about his love for Atlanta, the relationships built through ULI, and his commitment to ESG in the golden age of industrial investing
Arun Singh remembers becoming interested in real estate when he was a high school student in Columbus, Ohio. “I liked its tangible nature and each building being unique,” he said. However, despite this, he chose to study computer science at Georgia Tech.
After a year, he realized his mistake and returned home to Ohio State University, where his father was a professor and where he studied real estate. One thing that marked him from his year at Tech? A love for Atlanta. “The old adage, a city too busy to be hated, really sounded true,” he said. He appreciated that Atlanta was “diverse in every way that Columbus was not and represented an opportunity.” He knew he would eventually find his way back.
Singh graduated from Ohio State with a degree in real estate from Fisher College of Business and took a job in a rotation program at BP Oil and ended up in a group selling the company-owned stations Across the country. He eventually sold 3,000 stations between 2007 and 2009 and Singh’s group was selling over 50 a day. “Before I was 25, I had done more transactions than some people ever do,” he said. “I hope you will learn something from each.”
Singh said one thing that would surprise people about him is that he was not a very good student. “The professional work environment is what I was built for,” he said. However, he returned to school to earn a graduate degree at NYU in 2009. He worked full-time during the day and went to school from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. He found the NYU program more engaging because his professors worked full-time. – spending time in real estate and bringing real-world issues to class for discussion. “Instead of a traditional classroom experience, it felt more like a colleague mentoring younger colleagues, working together on a problem,” he said. “I liked it.”
After finishing with a master’s degree in real estate, with a concentration in finance and investing, he accepted a job in another rotational program, this time at MetLife. He started out in research, where he was able to examine a wide variety of strategic real estate topics – from buying liquidated assets from banks, to buying asset managers, to privatizing public REITs. He moved on with several roles within MetLife and in 2014 was offered a position in commercial loan origination – in Atlanta. He was thrilled to be back in the town where he had felt so comfortable as a freshman.
One of the first things he did in Atlanta was join ULI. In his early thirties, he quickly joined and became an active member of the Young Leaders Group, which allows emerging leaders to interact with established leaders in unique contexts, both socially and professionally.
“I was interested in building a professional and personal network and it worked out wonderfully,” he said. “I liked hearing how others, such as architects and general contractors, viewed the same deals I was working on, but from a different perspective.” He continues to enjoy those relationships today.
Singh also went to another CRE organization’s event, where in 2014 he heard Jeff Small, the CEO of MDH Partners, speak. MDH was an entrepreneurial company founded by Small and other former executives of MD Hodges, one of the leading industrial property developers in the Atlanta metro area from the 1960s to the early 2000s.
“He was Jeff Small, which is to say, he was an amazing public speaker,” Singh said.
Singh spoke to her afterwards and eventually launched her business. They started working together and eventually Singh developed a new product for MDH Partners which resulted in $275 million in funding over the next few years and MetLife became the go-to funding source for MDH. In 2020, Singh accepted a position as CFO of MDH.
His work is much broader than his title suggests. He oversees finance, accounting, investor relations, human resources, operations, technology, strategy, ESG, marketing efforts and capital markets. “I don’t just keep the books,” he said. “I focus on strategy and how we operate in the best possible way.”
MDH, which had only five employees when Singh and Small met, is now a team of 25 people. Over the past two years, they’ve invested Fund I, raised Fund II, and deployed about half of Fund II’s capital, acquiring nearly 20 million square feet. industrial assets in 20 states in just three years. The accelerated timeline is necessary because MDH is taking advantage of what Singh calls “the golden age of industrial investment.”
MDH has long focused on ESG “because it was the right thing to do, not because our sources of capital required us to do it”. Singh drafted the ESG policy upon joining MDH, formalizing the company’s longstanding business approach. The company was later recognized for its outstanding commitment to ESG programs and won the Global Emerging Manager ESG Award, as part of the Pension Real Estate Association’s (PREA) inaugural Real Estate Investment ESG Awards.
MDH’s ESG policy and unique location with all capital coming from foundations and university endowments has enabled the company to apply its value-added approach in more than 30 cities across the country with a long-term vision. MDH’s ESG policy is instilled in every asset, whether it’s installing clerestory windows for more natural light or replacing outdated lighting with energy-efficient LED bulbs or improving operations.
Singh highlighted two initiatives that represent MDH’s ESG policy at its core, first, CarbonCure Technologies. MDH was one of the first industry developers to adopt CarbonCure, which injects captured CO2 into concrete as it is mixed, reducing carbon emissions by incorporating the CO2 into the cement, instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. . The company has used the technology in three developments so far, saving more than 250 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Most recently, the company opened one of the largest CarbonCure developments of its kind, Busch Commerce Center in Cartersville, GA.
At the Cartersville project, MDH has used so much CarbonCure that it is equivalent to removing more than one million automobile miles from the road each year.
The second ESG initiative he mentioned is the project’s commitment to the neighborhood surrounding Lee + White, which MDH is redeveloping with Ackerman. In addition to being home to a variety of local and diverse businesses, the adaptive reuse development offered free meeting space and hosted several community organizations. Examples include meetings for the West End Neighborhood District (WEND), a giveaway event for the Free99 Fridge mutual aid project, free COVID testing through the Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE), and a partnership with public schools. of Atlanta for remote learning modules and a food giveaway for neighborhood families during the height of the pandemic. It recently hosted the Beltline Lantern Parade and provided space for them to complete the lanterns.
Despite his busy schedule, Singh finds time to give back. He has focused much of his efforts on his alma mater Ohio State, where he helped fund a scholarship and mentors real estate students. MDH just hired a recent Ohio State graduate who was president of the real estate club. “When I was a student, that was something I really missed, mentorship by young real estate professionals,” Singh said. “So I’m committed to doing my part to improve that.”
This article originally appeared in the June 6, 2022 edition of the Saporta report.